When it’s about Dad, you know nothing comes easy. For a guy who spent a portion of every visit showing me where the keys to the safe were – in the baseboard heater, the old vacuum cleaner bag, tucked under the ironing board cover – he sure didn’t do anything to ease the transfer of his estate. When I asked him to just give me a key to the safe, he refused. Didn’t want it falling into the wrong hands. I live 3,000 miles away. Which wrong hands were going to steal the key, fly to New York, find his house, and break into his safe?
My Dad got his will from legalforms.com or whoever else peddles legal forms to unsuspecting octogenarians on the web. For a man who always claimed his browser was “broken,” he found a way to buy and print a will. Then, in all caps — he couldn’t work the shift key — he typed his name, my name, signed it and had it witnessed and notarized. If he’d stopped right there, it would have been easy to transfer his stuff to my name. But nothing is easy with my dad. He downloaded another form to establish a trust. The trust is another way to pass on money, and totally unnecessary. To use a trust, you must set your money up in trust accounts. Loosely translated, a trust is an account that requires your beneficiary to jump through more hoops than Shamu trying to get a fish. My father did all of this jockeying to avoid paying a lawyer to write his will and to eliminate the need for a lawyer when he died.
After my dad’s funeral, we spent a week working on financial matters and loose ends. After that, we dropped the kids off with their Yiaya in order to start the epic and nightmarish task of cleaning out my father’s house.
My husband took the basement and garage and I took the upstairs. In the garage, my dad had strung a board from the wall at ground level that groaned from the weight of all the crap he’d stored behind it. My husband found tools, pipes, brooms and every wooden handle to every shovel or rake my dad had ever owned. In addition to that, he found three lawnmowers and a nook with charcoal stored next to gas, next to brake fluid, next to matches, oil, cans of compressed gas, cleaning solvents, and old rags. “I can’t believe this place didn’t go up in flames,” he told me. I wished we were that lucky.
On our first day back East, we went to the funeral home to make arrangements. The funeral was the next day but apparently you can wait until the last minute to go over the details. So we did. One of our tasks was to get Dad clothes to wear in the casket. After our meeting, we headed straight to his house to pick up a suit.
We had two keys. They were marked “Upper front door,” and “Lower front door” in masking tape. I watched the kids in the driveway. My husband tried “Upper front door.” Jiggled it. No luck. He tried “Lower front door.” Jiggled it. No luck.
The last we heard from my dad, he was in rehab for his leg, trying desperately to escape. The nurse called me three days after he’d checked in to tell me that he fell, sort of. She said he didn’t exactly fall, but he ended up on his knees next to his bed. “He’s been trying to escape since he got here,” she said. She explained that he’d tried to fly the coop so much that they’d put two tracking devices on him. One device went off if he got out of bed by himself and the other sounded an alarm if he got close to an exit. So basically my 84-year-old dad was on house arrest in this nursing home, making several attempts a day to escape.
He’d checked himself out of his last rehab before he could walk. I asked the nurse if he could sign out in his current partially demented state and she assured me that he couldn’t, so basically they had the right to restrain him. Good. It didn’t matter to him that the last time he’d escaped, he was crawling around his house, hardly eating or drinking, probably because he couldn’t reach much from the floor. (See “Dad’s latest accident — Fourth in a series: “There’s no place like home:) It didn’t matter that his visiting nurse had called an ambulance when she found him like that. He’d refused to go to the hospital. Once he’d gotten his full-time aide and recovered a little, he told me, “I may have messed myself up checking out before I could walk.” No duh??